I’m going to get it out there straight away, I really didn’t like This Our Still Life. However, I’m going to go easy on it. This is mainly because this isn’t really a ‘film’ as such and not even a documentary as it’s labelled on IMDB. It’s more of an art-piece, so giving it a star-rating seems wrong and I can appreciate that those more inclined to experimental lo-fi work might get more from it. OK, so all films can be classed as art in some way or another – even churned out blockbusters have been crafted with some level of artistry. Something like this though has a whole different approach to the medium and doesn’t feel like the same experience even watching quite surreal films such as David Lynch’s gives, let alone your run of the mill Hollywood output. So instead I’m going to express my problems with This Our Still Life, but try not to just label it as ‘crap’.
I actually thought the central idea of the film was great and that’s mainly why I didn’t like it, as it didn’t really make the most of it in my mind. The film consists of the director (and camera op, editor, producer etc.) Andrew Kötting filming excerpts of his life in the Pyrenese with his wife Leila and his 23 year old daughter Eden, who was born with a rare neurological disease. We observe their life over a year, living very basically, seemingly miles from any sort of ‘civilisation’ as we’d know it.
To me that sounded like I’d be getting a touching and intimate portrait of a family who had their share of difficulties, but still lived life as they wanted in an idyllic setting, away from the trappings of modern life. Things like that appeal to me quite a lot, and to an extent the film delivers that in parts. The latter half of the film actually grew on me and the relationship Eden has with her parents is beautiful to observe. Unfortunately I really didn’t like the presentation of the piece as a whole and most of the first half is made up of random imagery taken from around their villa in the mountains and a jumbled mix of surreal, seemingly stock audio clips (they’re actually recorded by two actors). This rambling, nonsensical approach, mixed with lo-fi camerawork from Kötting on his handicam really did nothing for me. I actually found the first half hour incredibly difficult to watch. I struggled to see any sort of beauty in the shaky imagery and the soundbytes playing over the top just irritated me.
One thing that kept me sane was the music. Scanner’s Robin Rimbaud provides the score and it’s moody and intoxicating, keeping things loosely held together. As mentioned, once the family aspects took a greater significance and the film ‘settled down’ a bit in the latter half I did warm to it a little more too. Overall though, the film always felt a little too random to keep me fully engaged. It didn’t take itself too seriously, which stops it from getting overly pretentious, but I still rarely found anything to latch onto. Perhaps the style is purposefully infuriating and difficult to pin down to mirror the turmoil in the mind of Eden, but it does not make for a viewing experience I’d recommend. Those with a greater love of experimental art-cinema may disagree and I’m sure there are many who would love This Our Still Life, but I’m not one of them I’m afraid.
This Our Still Life is out on March 19th on DVD, released by the BFI. To make up for the brief running time, they have beefed up the package with three extra films. We get another abstract piece called Mapping Perception, which is a collaboration between Giles Lane, curator and producer, Andrew Kötting and Mark Lythgoe, a neurophysiologist at the Institute of Child Health, London with the participation of Eden Kötting. This plays out like a mixture between Still Life and a rave video, with lots of stock inserts mixed with handicam footage to try and understand and portray neurological disease in the young. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it felt to have greater focus than the feature.
Next up is An History of Civilisation, which is an odd little piece that simply observes a May Day bank holiday in the park from a distance. I really didn’t see much value in this, but again, others may disagree.
My favourite addition to the package though was Portrait of Eden. This is a 21 minute observational documentary following a day in Eden Kötting’s life. It’s much more straight forward, shot in a documentary style with some artistically shot cutaways breaking things up a bit. It wasn’t just the pretty photography that won me over though, I liked the unobtrusive approach, simply observing Eden and all those that support her day to day. It was fascinating and touching to watch without forcing bland talking heads over the footage or by throwing all sorts at us like in Still Life.
Also included is a hefty booklet with various essays on the film. It helps give some more views on Kötting’s approach to his work, but didn’t change my opinion I’m afraid.